In the historic fight for LGBTQIA+ liberation and in response to rising transphobia across the country, Black trans women have trailblazed social movements and community-building. Violence faced by transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people is only exacerbated for Black trans women, who have accounted for two-thirds of fatal victims of anti-trans/GNC violence since 2013.
Mariah Moore and Milan Sherry, two Black trans activists, were inspired to found House of Tulip, the first housing refuge for TGNC people in Louisiana, as a response to rising violence against their community. Beyond housing, the nonprofit collective provides financial aid, a community closet, workshops, and community support. Cydney Tucker’s 24-minute documentary, “House of Tulip,” allows intimate access into the lives of activists dedicated to bettering their community. It follows them while they provide day-to-day support and organize the Trans March of Resilience, and it documents Moore’s historic run for City Council in 2021.
Tucker’s cinema verite-style film premiered at Outfest Fusion in March and shows the power of community in the face of oppression. Prism spoke to Tucker and Moore, who reflect on the impact of creating empowering Black queer and trans representation, whether in the media or politics, and the pivotal role that joy plays in liberation.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Kelsey Brown: What is House of Tulip?
Mariah Moore: House of Tulip started from mutual aid during the start of the pandemic. It was actually a GoFundMe that Milan and other local activists here in New Orleans started to collectively raise and redistribute money. One thing that kept coming up was housing insecurity. Things link very closely to housing—medical costs, educational disparities, food insecurity. Housing is the cornerstone to accessing all of these other things.
We raised more than $400,000 in the first few months, and then we got office space and a residential property. We have a new site, our stabilization center, which stays open from 9 a.m. to midnight. It fits folks with meals, showers, beds if they need to rest, and computers if they need to do a job search. We just try to meet folks where they are. The need is always much greater than the resources that we have available, so we’re trying to do everything we can.
Brown: Why do a documentary?
Cydney Tucker: I was working as a journalist and producer at Al Jazeera, and one of my colleagues made a really powerful film about [the murder of] Muhlaysia Booker, a Black trans woman. What struck me was that, as a journalist, the rate at which trans individuals were being killed wasn’t something that was being covered on a local, national, or international level. It’s happening at epidemic proportions. I wanted to do something on this issue, but I wanted to see what the community was doing on the ground to combat this.
Moore: I’ve never really told my story or got to document parts of my journey. It felt good to see myself in a different space and to hear myself. That’s something that I’ll always be able to look back to and others will be able to look to and draw inspiration from. It’s important to document our stories—not enough of our stories are documented.
Brown: Did you have any hesitations about making the documentary?
Tucker: I’m a Black queer woman. I’m not a Black trans woman. So I need[ed] to make this film as hyper-collaborative, transparent, and communicative as possible. At every step of the way in the filmmaking process, I worked on building a relationship with Mariah and Milan prior to even introducing a camera.
Moore: Don’t be fooled; Cydney requested it for a long time. In our community, you have to be very smart and informed about the folks that you work with. You have to do your research. There are a lot of journalists and folks in the media who will take advantage of our community, and they will not just co-opt the stories and experiences of our communities, but twist it and use it as ammunition against our community.
It’s very important—especially during the moment that we’re in right now, where we’re seeing so much anti-trans legislation and violence against our community—that we’re informed about who we’re talking to, what their motives are, what their relationship has been like, and what their prior work and investment is in our community.
We had to really talk about that [because] our story has value. Our work is powerful, and we are powerful, and so not just anyone can tell our story.
Brown: A big part of the documentary follows Mariah running for City Council. Why is representation needed in every space, whether in politics or the media?
Moore: We are so vilified, especially in this moment. What’s happening to not just trans folks, but LGBTQIA+ folks, specifically drag performers—it’s dehumanizing. Representation brings more competency [and] awareness. It bridges the gap between communities that may not be in spaces together, or really know that we have more in common than not.
When you see someone who looks like you and shares a similar journey as you, it motivates you. It lets you know that I can do this too. For me, watching Andrea Jenkins run for the Minneapolis City Council and win was amazing to me. It let me know, [I] can break the glass ceiling in New Orleans.
Tucker: Even though the backbone of the story was “individuals are dying,” it was also [that] they’re more than just numbers of people who are being murdered. They have lives. They have hopes. They have dreams. They have communities of people who love them. It was important to show that this is more than just a movement. This is a community; this is love. This is hope.
Moore: The film shows two Black trans women who are so different [but] come from the same community [and] share similar stories. Although we have different styles, we’re both invested and have the same vision for our community.
We are different people all around with the same heart and vision for our community, and that’s just so reflective of how the world needs to be. People who are so different that share common goals—they exist. They exist within our own community. When folks talk about trans people, they talk about us in a blanket sense. Like we’re all the same, and we are so different.
Brown: Despite the documentary touching on heavy subjects—like violence, transphobia, and misogyny—the film is embedded with laughter and dancing. Why was it important to frame this documentary with a joyous lens?
Tucker: I wanted to have those elements of core issues and how they’re impacting the community. We’re talking about a lack of resources, a gap in housing and shelter access, and violence. I needed people to know that was happening, but I also wanted people to know that’s not the whole story. There was this delicate balance.
Almost every year, the number of trans individuals killed is higher than the year before. You just keep hearing it, it keeps going up, and yet nothing is happening. At the same time, it was also important to include representation of love, familial and communal support of individuals, and also what the community itself is doing to combat this violence.
While that violence is weaponized against the community, the community is turning that on its head and weaponizing love and joy as a way to combat what they’re facing. It’s through joy, it’s through laughter, and it’s through community that they’re able to get through those moments.
It was important to me that people outside the TGNC community, outside the queer community, could see folks like Mariah, Milan, and all of the women and TGNC folks that they help and get a sense of who trans individuals are, what their beliefs are—but also the culture, the love, and heart that comes from it.
Brown: How was the “House of Tulip” premiere at Outfest Fusion?
Tucker: It is different watching a film with your community because there is that call-and-response aspect that you wouldn’t get otherwise. When we’re talking about more serious things in the film—touching on all the people who’ve been lost to senseless violence within the trans community—you could just feel the energy shift. But you could feel it shift again when we had those joyous moments.
I was so happy Mariah was able to be there! She participated in the Q&A and announced that she’s running in 2025. We tapped into these very serious topics about the rising homicide rates of Black trans women specifically, but we also talked about how, within this community, these individuals are more than just the trauma that they’re currently facing. They are their hopes; they are their dreams. We got to see all of that in Mariah, Milan, and the work that they do at House of Tulip.
“House of Tulip” will be available for viewing in June on TIME’s website.